Proctor's vocal music program has evolved tremendously under the guidance of vocal music director Kristofer Johnson, as performance trips to Great Britain, Washington, D.C., Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, and Hong Kong over the past five years have provided Proctor's choral students with unforgettable learning experiences.
Traveling abroad to perform as a choir has highlighted dozens of student experiences in recent years, but it is the day-to-day academic work of vocal music students that provides the necessary foundation for such experiences to occur. Johnson comments, "Students must work incredibly hard to improve musicianship skills as well as their vocal training; they must train both their body and mind simultaneously in order to develop into the artists we know they can be."
It is this complex development of skills and fitness that allows students to perform magnificent pieces, like this
solo by baritone Jaguar Sasmito ('09) and this
piece by the entire choir in 2008. Chamber Choir (which meets E block during the academic schedule) members also take a private voice lesson each week in order to receive individualized instruction as they prepare various solo works for the end of term performance.
Johnson's tenure at Proctor and work as Director of the Concord Chorale
, along with accompanist Sarah Will's experience, provides substantial expertise for Proctor's students, however, a consistent flow of guest teachers to the Proctor Stone Chapel has augmented the instruction enjoyed by members of the choir. Most recently, a visit by soprano Martha Guth
and bass Ricardo Lugo
(a regular at the Metropolitan Opera
) offered unparalleled instruction over a three-day period during which Martha and Ricardo rehearsed with the choir and provided an individualized voice lesson for each student.
While not quite as effective as personalized attention by world class musicians, the inclusion of new computer software into the Chamber Choir's resources this year has provided another avenue for potential individual development. Musition
, a music theory software allows students to study music the choir is rehearsing, while Auralia
provides individualized aural skill feedback to students.
Using all of these resources, combined with the momentum established in recent years, the Chamber Choir took on a task of tremendous proportions this fall as they prepared the 35 minute Vivaldi Gloria
. Alongside a professional orchestra quartet, the choir performed the piece during its end of term recital. You can listen to two excerpts of the performance here
. For those in attendance, it was truly stunning to witness students perform such a complex piece and as Johnson notes, "This is a performance our students will remember for the rest of their lives. Every time they hear Gloria
they will be taken back to this performance, the work they put into it and the talents of those around them, and that, to me, is quite special."
While the Fall Term performance took on a more classic feel, the winter term has students learning a variety of modern choral pieces, including a James Taylor piece that will be performed next week at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration. Similarly, the Spring Term will see another guest teacher, tenor Limmie Pulliam
, visit campus to offer his expertise in African American spirituals, while at the same time, the choir will be sharing voices with the theater department's musical production.
Johnson seeks to ensure, "each student is exposed to a wide variety of music, eras, and cultures" during his or her time with the choir. Beginning with a performance trip to Great Britain in 2007, the Chamber Choir took a first hand approach to this cultural exploration. Four trips and three continents later, Proctor's Chamber Choir members are among the most well-traveled students on campus.
Last year's trip to Hong Kong and China (captured wonderfully by Brian Perry's '11 senior project
) exposed students to a culture many had never experienced before. It is this experience that Johnson seeks to create with each trip the choir takes, "Our goal is to place our students in situations that challenge them culturally. We want to show students something we could not otherwise experience and to figure out where music lies in community. What can the art of music do to break down barriers between groups of people. Watching this process occur first hand has been phenomenal."
Through collaborative concerts with host communities and performances in front of large audiences abroad, performance trips also help the choir move toward new levels of excellence. Johnson adds, "When we perform repeatedly in front of audiences, we gradually move the goal line of excellence for our group. We realize how good we can be when we are placed in a setting that repeatedly demands our best."
This process of becoming increasingly self-aware (individually and collectively) through performance speaks to the transformative nature of vocal music. While many students arrive on campus with a passion for singing, others find their way to the choir after realizing a gift of voice during the spring musical. For all, the hope is that through participation in the vocal music program, they become more 'awake' to their own talents, the world of music, and the world around them.